On the morning of October 25, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) granted a patent to Apple, Inc. for its slide-to-unlock technology, used to unlock touch-screen devices including the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. According to 9 to 5 Mac, no other mobile device manufacturer will be able to use a smartphone accessory identical to this method unless it existed before Apple's iPhone hit the market in 2007, or a court ruling invalidates the patent.
The news source reports that some devices will be free of the patent's restrictions, including the Neonode N1m cellphone, released in 2004 – a year ahead of the original patent filing for Apple's unlocking mechanism. However, other smartphones with similar systems may become subject to intellectual property litigation filed by Apple, according to BBC News.
Android-powered devices, already the indirect target of dozens of patent infringement lawsuits brought by Apple, may be the focus of fresh legal action. Numerous Android smartphones, and several powered by Windows Phone, use unlocking methods that, according to the patent's language, are similar to that of the iPhone.
However, the BBC reports that some intellectual property professionals such as attorney Silas Brown, of London-based firm Briffa, feel the patent could be rendered ineffective.
"When [patents] are challenged, there is a counter-action to claim that the patent shouldn't have been granted," Brown told the BBC. He stated that a court could find the patent to be too broad or simple.